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STEM faculty who believe ability is fixed have larger racial achievement gaps and inspire less student motivation in their classes

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An important goal of the scientific community is broadening the achievement and participation of racial minorities in STEM fields. Yet, professors’ beliefs about the fixedness of ability may be an unwitting and overlooked barrier for stigmatized students. Results from a longitudinal university-wide sample (150 STEM professors and more than 15,000 students) revealed that the racial achievement gaps in courses taught by more fixed mindset faculty were twice as large as the achievement gaps in courses taught by more growth mindset faculty. Course evaluations revealed that students were demotivated and had more negative experiences in classes taught by fixed (versus growth) mindset faculty. Faculty mindset beliefs predicted student achievement and motivation above and beyond any other faculty characteristic, including their gender, race/ethnicity, age, teaching experience, or tenure status. These findings suggest that faculty mindset beliefs have important implications for the classroom experiences and achievement of underrepresented minority students in STEM.
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Canning et al., Sci. Adv. 2019; 5 : eaau4734 15 February 2019
SCIENCE ADVANCES | RESEARCH ARTICLE
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SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY
STEM faculty who believe ability is fixed have larger
racial achievement gaps and inspire less student
motivation in their classes
Elizabeth A. Canning*, Katherine Muenks, Dorainne J. Green, Mary C. Murphy*
An important goal of the scientific community is broadening the achievement and participation of racial minorities
in STEM fields. Yet, professors’ beliefs about the fixedness of ability may be an unwitting and overlooked barrier
for stigmatized students. Results from a longitudinal university-wide sample (150 STEM professors and more than
15,000 students) revealed that the racial achievement gaps in courses taught by more fixed mindset faculty were
twice as large as the achievement gaps in courses taught by more growth mindset faculty. Course evaluations
revealed that students were demotivated and had more negative experiences in classes taught by fixed (versus
growth) mindset faculty. Faculty mindset beliefs predicted student achievement and motivation above and be-
yond any other faculty characteristic, including their gender, race/ethnicity, age, teaching experience, or tenure
status. These findings suggest that faculty mindset beliefs have important implications for the classroom experi-
ences and achievement of underrepresented minority students in STEM.
INTRODUCTION
Despite decades of research and millions of dollars in federal funding
aimed to understand and ameliorate the underrepresentation of di-
verse individuals in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and
mathematics) pipeline, Black, Latino, and Native American students [un -
derrepresented racial/ethnic minorities (URM)] continue to underper-
form academically relative to their White peers (1). While these racial
achievement gaps are determined by multiple (e.g., economic and struc-
tural) factors, they may be exacerbated by subtle situational cues from
STEM professors that reinforce racial stereotypes about which social
groups are more or less likely to have ability in STEM (2).
The cues hypothesis suggests that threatening situational cues in
STEM settings, such as the diagnosticity of a test (24), can cause
URM students to become concerned about being judged in terms of
ability stereotypes, resulting in a loss of motivation, intellectual under-
performance, and larger racial achievement gaps in STEM classes
(57). This study examines the role of a novel situational cue to stereo-
type underperformance—STEM college professors’ beliefs about the
fixedness or malleability of ability (8)—and explores whether these
faculty beliefs are associated with URM students’ motivation and
their academic achievement in those professors’ STEM courses.
People’s mindsets (also known as implicit theories or lay theories)
are their beliefs about the fixedness or malleability of human char-
acteristics like intelligence or personality (8). Faculty members who
espouse fixed mindset beliefs endorse the idea that intelligence and
ability are fixed, innate qualities that cannot be changed or devel-
oped much. In contrast, faculty who espouse growth mindset beliefs
endorse the idea that ability is malleable and can be developed
through persistence, good strategies, and quality mentoring. Fixed
mindset professors are more likely to judge a student as having low
ability based on a single test performance (9) and to use unhelpful ped-
agogical practices, like encouraging students to drop difficult courses
(e.g., “not everyone is meant to pursue a STEM career”) (9).
Faculty who endorse fixed mindset beliefs think that some stu-
dents have strong, innate intellectual abilities, while others do not.
Which students might those be? Pervasive cultural stereotypes sug-
gest that White and Asian students are more naturally gifted in STEM
than Black, Latino, and Native American students. Because these
American cultural stereotypes impugn the intellectual abilities of
URM students, we predicted that faculty who endorse fixed mindset
beliefs may be particularly demotivating to URM students, resulting
in lower performance among URM students in courses taught by
fixed (versus growth) mindset faculty. Classic findings regarding
the influence of teacher beliefs on students’ performance demon-
strate that when teachers have lower expectations for their students,
those students become less motivated and perform more poorly in
those teachers’ classes (10). These Pygmalion effects are even stronger
for URM students (11,12).
We hypothesized that STEM professors’ fixed beliefs about in-
telligence and ability would lead URM students to experience lower
motivation and to underperform relative to their non-stereotyped
peers—a pattern consistent with stereotype threat theory. Classic
studies that document stereotype threat underperformance effects
typically manipulate threatening (versus nonthreatening) situational
cues in the learning environment, such as an experimenter’s race/
ethnicity/gender, and assess students’ intellectual performance as
the primary indicator of stereotype threat (2,7,13,14). Drawing on
this theoretical framework, the present study examines the role of
college professors’ mindsets as a situational cue that triggers URM
underperformance in STEM courses. We argue that if STEM faculty
who endorse fixed mindset beliefs engender stereotype threat among
URM students, we should observe lower student motivation and
substantially larger racial achievement gaps in those professors’
courses compared to courses taught by STEM professors who en-
dorse growth mindset beliefs.
The present study investigates undergraduate STEM faculty’s
self-reported mindset beliefs and their implications for student moti-
vation and performance. Previous research has examined students’
perceptions of faculty beliefs (15), yet no study, to our knowledge,
has examined actual self-reported mindset beliefs of STEM faculty
as a predictor of student performance. Furthermore, the effects of
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington,
IN 47405, USA.
*Corresponding author. Email: canning@iu.edu (E.A.C.); mcmpsych@indiana.edu (M.C.M.)
†Present address: University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA.
Copyright © 2019
The Authors, some
rights reserved;
exclusive licensee
American Association
for the Advancement
of Science. No claim to
original U.S. Government
Works. Distributed
under a Creative
Commons Attribution
NonCommercial
License 4.0 (CC BY-NC).
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teacher beliefs have only been examined among young children (16)
and have not been applied in undergraduate populations, where ca-
reer decisions and trajectories are more salient. We test our hypoth-
esis in a longitudinal, university-wide sample of STEM faculty—the
largest sample to date of faculty mindset beliefs combined with stu-
dent records.
RESULTS
To test our hypothesis, we examined the links between faculty mind-
set beliefs and the racial achievement gaps in those faculty mem-
bers’ courses across seven semesters (2years) and more than 15,000
undergraduate student records. Using a validated two-item lay
beliefs about intelligence measure (8), we surveyed STEM faculty
(N=150; 40.8% response rate) at a large, selective public university
(e.g., “To be honest, students have a certain amount of intelligence, and
they really can’t do much to change it”; =0.91, M=3.87, SD=1.46).
All 13 STEM departments (e.g., Astronomy, Biology, Computer
Science, Mathematics, and Physics) at the university were represented
in the sample. More than half (55.3%) of the sample was tenured, and
the average STEM teaching experience was 18.4years. The percentage
of female and URM faculty in the sample was similar to the demo-
graphics of STEM faculty nationwide (faculty sample: 26.7% female,
4.7% URM; nationwide: 20.4% female, 5.2% URM) (1).
University records provided course grades for all students
[N=15,466; 7172 women (46.4%); 1685 URM (10.9%)] enrolled in
all of the courses (n=634) taught by the STEM faculty respondents
over seven academic terms. Thus, student-level data in this study
represent a census (the entire population of individuals in a setting)
rather than a sample that is used to estimate the population. A multi-
level regression model accounted for the nested nature of the data
(students nested within courses, nested within faculty) and controlled
for confounding factors such as students’ previous achievement (SAT
scores) and all available course and faculty characteristics (17). All
variables were standardized so that coefficients from the multilevel
model can be interpreted as effect sizes (18). Last, we added partially
crossed random effects to the model because students could enroll in
multiple courses from the same faculty member or in courses from
multiple faculty members in the sample across the seven academic
terms (19). Table S1 provides fixed effects estimates from the model.
On average, all students performed more poorly in STEM courses
taught by faculty who endorsed more fixed (versus growth) mindset
beliefs (B=0.08, P=0.011). However, consistent with stereotype
threat and the cues hypothesis, fixed faculty mindset beliefs were
more strongly associated with lower course performance among
Black, Latino, and Native American (URM) students (B=0.12,
P=0.001) than among White and Asian students (non-URM;
B=0.08, P=0.010; group × faculty mindset interaction: B=0.04,
P=0.041; Fig.1). On average, non-URM students earned 0.14 grade
point average (GPA) points (on a 4.0 scale) higher than URM stu-
dents, yet in courses taught by faculty who endorsed more of a fixed
mindset (−1 SD), the racial achievement gap grew to 0.19 GPA
points (URM GPA= 2.71; non-URM GPA= 2.90). However, in
courses taught by faculty who endorsed more of a growth mindset
(+1 SD), the racial achievement gap shrank to 0.10 GPA points
(URM GPA=2.96; non-URM GPA=3.06). Thus, the racial achieve-
ment gap was nearly twice as large in courses taught by college pro-
fessors who endorsed fixed (versus growth) mindset beliefs about
students’ ability.
Which STEM faculty are more likely to endorse fixed
mindset beliefs?
Do faculty who endorse fixed mindset beliefs tend to be men or
women? White, Asian, or URM? Men and women faculty were just as
likely to endorse fixed mindset beliefs (B = 0.14, P = 0.648; Table1),
and there were no mindset differences by faculty race/ethnicity
(B = 0.03, P = 0.956). As social desirability and awareness regarding
mindset beliefs grow (20), it is possible that the explicit endorse-
ment of fixed mindset beliefs may be generational such that older
(versus younger) faculty members may be more likely to endorse
them. Similarly, it is possible that tenured (versus untenured) faculty
with more (versus less) college teaching experience may endorse
more fixed mindset beliefs. Yet, we find no evidence that endorse-
ment of fixed mindset beliefs differs by professors’ age, tenure status,
or years of college teaching experience (all Ps > 0.35). It could also be
that fixed mindset beliefs might be more common in certain STEM
disciplines (21). However, we found that fixed mindset beliefs tran-
scended STEM disciplines and were endorsed equally across the 13
STEM disciplines in our sample (all Ps > 0.14). Thus, it seems that
fixed mindset beliefs are not gendered, generational, endorsed only by
majority group members, simply a function of accumulated teaching
experience, or more concentrated in certain STEM disciplines.
Exploring other faculty characteristics as additional
predictors of URM underperformance
Do faculty characteristics alone exacerbate or attenuate URM under-
performance, and are fixed mindset beliefs more threatening when
they come from faculty with certain demographic characteristics?
For example, is it worse for URM students when a White professor
endorses fixed (versus growth) mindset beliefs? Studies of students’
prototypes of scientists and engineers demonstrate that students often
conjure images of older white men as the gatekeepers of science (22);
therefore, it is plausible that faculty with these characteristics may
be more likely to activate stereotype threat among URM students,
resulting in larger racial achievement gaps in these professors’ classes.
We explored the role of all available faculty characteristics in our
dataset (i.e., faculty gender, race/ethnicity, age, tenure status, and
2.50
2.60
2.70
2.80
2.90
3.00
3.10
FixedGrowth
STEM course grade
White/Asian
URM
Fig. 1. Faculty mindset beliefs predict the racial achievement gap in STEM
courses. Predicted values are computed from the interaction between faculty
mindset beliefs (fixed = −1 SD, growth = +1 SD) and students’ URM (Black, Hispanic,
Native American) status. Error bars represent ±1 SE.
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teaching experience) as (i) additional predictors of URM underper-
formance and as (ii) potential moderators of the faculty mindset
effects.
Same-race role models and exam proctors have been shown to
buffer URM students against stereotype threat underperformance
in experimental laboratory settings (13,23,24); however, we found
that URM (versus non-URM) faculty did not have smaller racial
achievement gaps in their classes (B=0.30, P=0.215). Moreover,
professors’ racial identity did not buffer URM students against the
negative effects of fixed faculty mindset beliefs (faculty race/ethnicity ×
mindset interaction: B= −0.11, P= 0.502)—fixed mindset beliefs
were equally bad for URM students when they were endorsed by
White or URM professors. Similar findings emerged for faculty gender
(all Ps > 0.24). Perhaps faculty who are older, have more teaching
experience, or are tenured experts in their field are more identity
threatening for URM students, especially when they endorse fixed
mindset beliefs. Yet, professors’ age, teaching experience, and tenure
status did not predict the racial achievement gaps in their classes (all
Ps > 0.19), nor interact with their mindset beliefs to predict URM
students’ grades (all Ps > 0.41). Demonstrating the strong impact of
faculty mindset beliefs, when faculty demographics, mindset beliefs,
and students’ URM status (and all interactions between these vari-
ables) were included in the model, the mindset beliefs of professors
remain the consistent predictor of the racial achievement gap in their
courses (table S2). This suggests that faculty mindset beliefs are power-
fully associated with URM students’ intellectual performance—
above and beyond that of other faculty characteristics such as their
professors’ gender, race/ethnicity, age, teaching experience, and ten-
ure status.
What is it like to be a student in classes taught by faculty
who endorse more of a fixed (versus growth) mindset?
If professors communicate their beliefs through verbal and nonverbal
behavior (9), then professors who endorse fixed mindset beliefs
should be less likely to use pedagogical practices that emphasize
learning and the potential for growth and development (9,25,26).
What would be the point of emphasizing learning, growth, and de-
velopment if you do not believe that students can grow their skills
and abilities? Without faculty emphasis on learning, growth, and
development, we expected that students would report being less
motivated to do their best work in these professors’ classes. If stu-
dents are less motivated, then they should be less likely to recom-
mend these professors’ courses to others. It is possible that faculty
who endorse fixed mindset beliefs create more demanding courses—
requiring students to spend more time studying and preparing for
their course. If this is true, then differences in students’ performance
and psychological experiences might be explained by the demands
of these courses (instead of professors’ mindset beliefs).
Four semesters of students’ average course evaluation responses for
all courses taught by all faculty respondents shed light on students’ expe-
riences in these professors’ courses. Because student-level responses
were unavailable because of confidentiality concerns, we were unable
to examine racial/ethnic differences in students’ classroom experiences.
We tested multilevel models, controlling for course and faculty char-
acteristics, to account for courses nested within faculty.
Consistent with the theory that faculty’s fixed mindset beliefs are
demotivating to students, students reported less “motivation to do
their best work” in classes taught by faculty who endorsed more
fixed mindset beliefs (B=0.09, P=0.028) (Fig.2 and table S3). Stu-
dents also reported that fixed mindset professors were less likely to
use pedagogical practices that “emphasize learning and development”
(B=0.09, P=0.005). Exploratory mediation analyses of responses
to these two questions (see the Supplementary Materials) revealed
that these demotivating pedagogical practices statistically explained
the effect of faculty mindset on course grades for both URM and
non-URM students, although this effect was larger for URM stu-
dents. Thus, faculty who endorsed more fixed mindset beliefs
used less motivating pedagogical practices (at least as reported by
students), and these practices were associated with lower course
performance for all students on average and especially for URM
students.
Given that faculty who endorsed fixed mindset beliefs used less
motivating pedagogical practices than faculty who endorsed growth
mindset beliefs, it is not surprising that students were less likely to
recommend these courses to others (B=0.08, P=0.006). Faculty
mindset beliefs did not predict the amount of time that the course
required (B=−0.04, P=0.350). This finding suggests that fixed
mindset professors do not demand more of students—at least from
the students’ perspective—than do growth mindset professors; the
amount of time that students reported studying or preparing out-
side of class remained the same across courses taught by fixed and
growth mindset professors.
Table 1. Faculty characteristics predicting faculty mindset
beliefs. Higher scores on faculty mindset beliefs reflect a more growth
mindset. Gender was coded as follows: female = 1, male = 0. Race/
ethnicity was coded as follows: URM (Black, Hispanic, Native
American) = 1, non-URM (White, Asian) = 0. Tenure status was coded as
follows: tenured = 1, nontenured = 0. Biology was used as the reference
group for STEM discipline dummy codes.
B t (132) P
Faculty gender 0.14 0.46 0.648
Faculty race/
ethnicity 0.03 0.06 0.956
Faculty teaching
experience 0.25 0.95 0.343
Faculty tenure
status −0.16 −0.54 0.588
Faculty age −0.16 −0.64 0.527
Astronomy −0.26 −0.33 0.739
Biochemistry −0.90 −1.37 0.175
Biotechnology 0.18 0.16 0.871
Chemistry −0.22 −0.44 0.659
Cognitive
Science −0.53 −0.58 0.565
Computer
Science −0.12 −0.23 0.816
Economics −0.64 −1.12 0.265
Geology 0.39 0.73 0.468
Informatics 0.31 0.69 0.490
Math −0.62 −1.48 0.140
Physics −0.53 −0.86 0.391
Statistics −0.32 −0.40 0.689
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DISCUSSION
Our findings suggest that faculty mindset beliefs predict students’
experiences in their STEM courses and the magnitude of the racial
achievement gaps in these courses. We found that the racial achieve-
ment gaps in courses taught by more fixed mindset faculty were
twice as large as those in courses taught by more growth mindset
faculty. To our knowledge, this study examines the largest sample of
STEM courses (>600) and students (>15,000) to date, including
more than 1600 URM students. Moreover, it is the first to examine
the association of professors’ self-reported mindset beliefs with their
own students’ grades, demonstrating the implications of faculty
mindset beliefs for URM underperformance in STEM courses. Sup-
plemental analyses show that faculty beliefs that are most proximal
to students’ experiences (that is, the beliefs of the specific professor
who is teaching one’s class) matter more for students’ performance
in that class than do discipline-level faculty beliefs (that is, the average
faculty beliefs within a STEM discipline). Together, these findings
suggest that the mindset beliefs of STEM college professors shape
the motivation and achievement of students in their classes, and these
beliefs matter especially for URM students in their classes.
Professors’ beliefs about the nature of intelligence are likely to
shape the way they structure their courses, how they communicate
with students, and how they encourage (or discourage) students’
persistence (9). These malleable teaching practices have important
implications for the motivation, learning, and achievement of all
students in their classes. However, we argue that faculty beliefs about
which students “have” ability in STEM might constitute a greater
barrier for URM students because fixed mindset beliefs may make
group ability stereotypes salient, creating a context of stereotype
threat. Recent research suggests that when stigmatized students
expect to be stereotyped by fixed mindset institutions, they experi-
ence less belonging, less trust, and more anxiety and become less
interested (27,28), suggesting that fixed mindset faculty might also
engender these adverse outcomes among students. In the present
research, we were unable to assess students’ stereotype threat ex-
periences directly, as this would have required a survey assessment
on a prohibitively large scale (e.g., more than 15,000 students).
However, it is important to note that most of the stereotype threat
literature, including the original demonstrations of stereotype
threat in the context of race and gender (2,29), documented the
presence of stereotype threat by assessing intellectual perfor-
mance and demonstrating greater underperformance by stigma-
tized groups in the context of negative situational cues (e.g., test
diagnosticity). Thus, our results are consistent with this measure-
ment tradition as well as with stereotype threat theory. Future re-
search could measure students’ experiences of threat in response to
faculty mindset beliefs.
We found that fixed mindset beliefs are not concentrated within
certain STEM disciplines. Instead, they appear to be distributed rela-
tively evenly among faculty across STEM disciplines, suggesting that
the negative effects of these beliefs may be found across departments,
colleges, and likely at other universities. Beliefs that are concentrated
within disciplines pose additional problems for stigmatized students.
Previous research published in Science shows that professors’ beliefs
about brilliance (i.e., whether top performance in a field requires
brilliance) when aggregated to the discipline level correlate with the
number of women and racial minorities enrolled in American Ph.D.
programs (21), suggesting that brilliance beliefs—at the field level—
may discourage the pursuit of advanced education among stigma-
tized groups. The present research complements this work by
examining how more traditional mindset beliefs—here, professors’
beliefs about the fixedness (or malleability) of intelligence—shape
undergraduate students’ classroom experiences, their performance,
and the racial inequalities in those particular professors’ courses.
This work suggests that faculty mindset beliefs could be an import-
ant predictor of future decisions regarding the pursuit of advanced
education in specific STEM fields. Future research could test this
possibility.
Fig. 2. Faculty mindset beliefs predict students’ experiences in STEM courses. Predicted values are computed from the mean of faculty mindset (fixed = −1 SD,
growth = +1 SD). Error bars represent ±1 SE. ns, not significant. *P < 0.05 and **P < 0.01.
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Fixed mindset beliefs were also uncorrelated with faculty identities
(e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, and age) and experiences (e.g., tenure
and teaching experience), suggesting that fixed mindset beliefs are
problematic for students, regardless of the faculty member’s back-
ground. However, there are reasons to be optimistic here. Fixed
mindset beliefs are changeable. Studies have shown that cost-effective
educational interventions can help people develop more of a growth
mindset (30,31). Thus, professors’ mindset beliefs may be a poten-
tial lever to creating identity-safe college classrooms (32)—learning
environments where all students, regardless of race/ethnicity, feel
that they are valued and encouraged to reach their full potential.
Millions of dollars in federal funding have been earmarked for
student-centered initiatives and interventions that combat inequality
in higher education and expand the STEM pipeline. Rather than put-
ting the burden on students and rigid structural factors, our work
shines a spotlight on faculty and how their beliefs relate to the under-
performance of stigmatized students in their STEM classes. Investing
resources in faculty mindset interventions could help professors
understand the impact of their beliefs on students’ motivation and
performance and help them create growth mindset cultures in their
classes at little to no cost. If more faculty create growth mindset
cultures in their classes, then this could increase students’ motiva-
tion and engagement in STEM—potentially inspiring more URM
students to pursue STEM careers. Even a small increase in STEM
course grades could mean the difference between receiving credit
for the course, retaining financial aid, and/or advancing toward a
STEM degree. In this study, 150 faculty taught more than 15,000
students in just 2 years’ time, underscoring the pervasive influence
each college faculty member possesses. Faculty-centered interven-
tions may have the unprecedented potential to change STEM cul-
ture from a fixed mindset culture of genius to a growth mindset
culture of development while narrowing STEM racial achievement
gaps at scale (33).
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Participants
All currently employed STEM faculty (including adjuncts, lecturers,
postdocs, and graduate students) who had taught at least one course
at the university were recruited by email invitation. Emails were ob-
tained from university records. In total, 483 STEM faculty were
contacted, and 197 provided usable data (40.8%). We excluded 45
faculty who had not taught at least one undergraduate course with-
in the previous 2 years and 2 faculty who did not answer the two
mindset beliefs questions. The final sample included 150 faculty
across 13 STEM departments: Astronomy, Biology, Biochemistry,
Biotechnology, Chemistry, Cognitive Science, Computer Science,
Economics, Geological Science, Informatics, Mathematics, Physics, and
Statistics. See the Supplementary Materials for a comparison of STEM
faculty who opted in to the study with those who opted out.
Faculty survey measures
Participants completed the survey online and were told to “consider
the undergraduate students you teach (or have taught) at [the uni-
versity] when responding to these questions.” Faculty mindset be-
liefs were measured with two items (i.e., “To be honest, students have
a certain amount of intelligence, and they really can’t do much to
change it”; “Your intelligence is something about you that you can’t
change very much”; =0.91) on a 1 (strongly agree) to 6 (strongly
disagree) scale. Higher scores on the faculty mindset belief mea-
sure represented a more growth mindset. Teaching experience was
measured with one item (“How many years have you been teaching in
your field?”). Participants were asked to provide their gender, race/
ethnicity, and age. Tenure status was collected from university records.
Student variables
University records provided students’ gender, race/ethnicity, first-
generation status, and SAT scores for all students (N=15,466; 46.4%
women) enrolled in all of the courses (n=634) taught by the STEM
faculty respondents over seven academic terms. Black, Hispanic,
Native American/Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Island
students were categorized as underrepresented minority (URM;
n=1685; 10.9%). White and Asian students were categorized as the
majority group (n=13,781, 89.1%). Students who did not provide
the university with their race/ethnicity or were designated as having
“two or more races” were excluded from analysis (n= 3271). Stu-
dents were categorized as first generation if neither parent/guardian
had obtained a 4-year college degree (n=2255; 14.6%). If a student
took the ACT instead of the SAT, then their ACT composite was
converted to a SAT score. Students who did not provide the univer-
sity with a SAT or ACT score were excluded from analysis (n=440).
Course grades
Course grades were obtained from university records for all students
(N=15,466) in all courses taught by the faculty members in our
sample for seven semesters (2 years) preceding the faculty survey.
Grades were provided on a 4.0 scale (A/A+=4.0, A−=3.7, B+=3.3,
B= 3.0, B−=2.7, C+=2.3, C=2.0, C−=1.7, D+ =1.3, D=1.0,
D−=0.7, F=0.0).
Course-level variables
University records provided course characteristics, such as the num-
ber of students enrolled in each course and the course level (i.e., 100,
200, 300, or 400 level). A 100-level course is typically an introductory
course, whereas a 400-level course is typically a more advanced
course. Of the 634 courses included in the sample, 24.0% were
100-level, 23.3% were 200-level, 31.7% were 300-level, and 21.0%
were 400-level courses.
Course evaluations
Four semesters of students’ average course evaluation responses for
all courses taught by the faculty in our sample were collected from
university records. Course evaluations at this university were stan-
dardized across all courses and intended to be used for faculty de-
velopment (i.e., to help faculty improve teaching) and for tenure and
promotion decisions. At the end of the semester, students answered
two questions concerning the professor’s pedagogical practices (i.e.,
“How much did the instructor motivate you to do your best work?”
and “How much did the instructor emphasize student learning and
development?”) and one question concerning their overall recom-
mendation of the instructor (i.e., “How likely would you be to rec-
ommend this course with this instructor?”) on a 1 (not at all) to 4
(a lot/very likely) scale. Students answered one question concerning
the amount of time the course required (i.e., “Compared to other
courses you’ve taken how much time did this course require?”) on a
1 (much less time) to 5 (much more time) scale. Additional evalua-
tion questions were asked of students by the university; however,
only the evaluation questions reported above were publicly available
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online; therefore, our analyses were limited to these four questions.
Courses with fewer than five enrolled students were not included
in analyses to make sure that results were not biased by low response
rates. Student-level responses were unavailable because of confiden-
tiality concerns; for this reason, we were unable to examine racial/ethnic
differences in students’ classroom experiences.
Hierarchical models
We used hierarchical linear modeling to account for the nested struc-
ture of the data (17). To examine the factors that affect student course
grades, we tested a three-level model in which students (level 1) were
nested in courses (level 2) and courses were nested within faculty
(level 3). The model included partially crossed random effects be-
cause students could take courses from more than one faculty member
(19). In the model, we controlled for all available student character-
istics (gender, race/ethnicity, first-generation status, and SAT scores),
all available course characteristics (course enrollment and three dum-
my variables that account for course level), and all available faculty
characteristics (gender, race/ethnicity, age, years of teaching experi-
ence, and tenure status). See tables S4 to S6 for correlations among
variables at each level. Missing data were handled by listwise dele-
tion. The slope of student race/ethnicity was allowed to vary by
course to estimate the cross-level interaction between faculty mind-
set and student race/ethnicity. The intraclass correlation coefficient
(ICC) for course section (level 2) was 0.06, indicating that course
sections accounted for 6% of the variance in student grades. The
ICC for faculty (level 3) was 0.09, indicating that faculty accounted
for 9% of the variance in student grades. The model was fitted using
the lme4 package (34) for R version 3.3.1 (35) using restricted maxi-
mum likelihood. We used the lmerTest package to obtain P values
for fixed effects (36). T tests used the Satterthwaite approximations
to degrees of freedom. All continuous variables were standardized.
Categorical variables were coded as follows: female= 1, male=0;
URM (Black, Hispanic, Native American)= 1, non-URM (White,
Asian)=0; first-generation=1, continuing-generation=0; tenured=1,
nontenured=0. We added three dummy codes to control for course
level, with level 100 as the reference group (i.e., level 200=1 and
level 100=0). Specifically, we estimated a model using the following
R code, which was adapted from Bates etal. (34)
M1 <- lmer(Student_Course_Grade ~ Faculty_Mindset*Student_Race
+ Student_Firstgeneration + Student_Gender + Student_SAT
+ Faculty_Gender + Faculty_Teaching_Experience + Faculty_
Tenure_Status
+ Faculty_Age + Faculty_Race
+ Course_Enrollment + Course_200Level + Course_300Level
+ Course_400Level
+ (1 | Student_ID) + (Student_Race |Faculty_ID/Course_ID)
To examine average course evaluations, we tested a two-level
model in which courses (level 1) were nested within faculty (level 2).
In this model, we controlled for the same course characteristics
(course enrollment and three dummy variables that account for
class level) and faculty characteristics (gender, race/ethnicity, age, years
of teaching experience, and tenure status) as the previous model.
The ICC for faculty (level 2) ranged from 0.51 to 0.60, depend-
ing on the question, indicating that faculty accounted for approx-
imately 51 to 60% of the variance in students’ course evaluation
responses. The following R code was used to estimate the models:
M2 <- lmer(Course_Evaluations ~ Faculty_Mindset
+ Faculty_Gender + Faculty_Teaching_Experience + Faculty_
Tenure_Status
+ Faculty_Age + Faculty_Race
+ Course_Enrollment + Course_200Level + Course_300Level
+ Course_400Level
+ (1|Faculty_ID)
SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIALS
Supplementary material for this article is available at http://advances.sciencemag.org/cgi/
content/full/5/2/eaau4734/DC1
Supplemental Analyses
Table S1. Fixed effects estimates predicting students’ grades in STEM courses.
Table S2. Testing the role of other faculty characteristics.
Table S3. Fixed effects estimates predicting course evaluations.
Table S4. Correlations among the variables at level 1 (student).
Table S5. Correlations among the variables at level 2 (course).
Table S6. Correlations among the variables at level 3 (faculty).
Table S7. Discipline-level mindset beliefs.
Fig. S1. Mediation models for URM and non-URM students.
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Submitted 13 June 2018
Accepted 21 December 2018
Published 15 February 2019
10.1126/sciadv.aau4734
Citation: E. A. Canning, K. Muenks, D. J. Green, M. C. Murphy, STEM faculty who believe ability is
fixed have larger racial achievement gaps and inspire less student motivation in their classes.
Sci. Adv. 5, eaau4734 (2019).
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student motivation in their classes
STEM faculty who believe ability is fixed have larger racial achievement gaps and inspire less
Elizabeth A. Canning, Katherine Muenks, Dorainne J. Green and Mary C. Murphy
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau4734
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... STEM professors' fixed (compared to growth) mindsets about student intelligence was significantly associated with decreases in student grades, motivation, perception of faculty as emphasizing learning and development, and recommendation of their courses to other students (Canning et al., 2019a). Moreover, courses taught by STEM professors who held fixed rather than growth mindsets exhibited achievement gaps for underrepresented (Black, Latino, and Native American) students in comparison to White and Asian students (Canning et al., 2019b). ...
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